April 4, 2012

Implementing Gorge Safety Initiatives

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On March 28, the University announced that it will spend $1.56 million to make the gorges safer by spearheading initiatives that would prevent students from drowning or falling in Cornell’s gorges. The money that has been allocated demonstrates that Cornell is finally making this issue a priority. However, while the funding is necessary, it is not sufficient to create solutions.

Over the summer, three students died by either falling down the cliffs or drowning in the seemingly calm plunge pools. In response, the University formed a gorge safety steering group in August to look into ways to end the troubling trend gorge deaths. The $1.56 million will go toward implementing some of this group’s recommendations, including the production of a gorge safety video, improvements to the gorge trails and other education, infrastructure and enforcement initiatives. With the summer months approaching, it is important that the University tackle these proposals quickly. This monetary contribution, while providing the resources to realize the plans, does not guarantee that the plan will be implemented quickly and effectively. As one victim’s parents pointed out in a letter published in The Sun in August, the informational signs now in place took three years to create and had not been in place on May 30, when one student drowned. Nor were they posted when another drowned nearly a month later. It is important that the University not only spend money to tackle this problem, but use the money quickly or effectively. We are encouraged by many of the suggestions that the University said would be implemented. Administrators have offered a timeline on implementation, and it is necessary that they stick to it. The University says that by late summer, a pilot program will shuttle students to such alternative, legal swimming spots as Robert H. Treman State Park. Additionally, Cornell announced that education efforts through which students will be trained to share information with their peers about regulations, the hazards of swimming in the gorges and the locations of alternative places to swim, will start this summer.Just as the seemingly calm waters of the gorges offer swimmers a false sense of security, we worry that the money that is being put into this project will do the same. We are happy to see a material commitment, but without effective and rapid implementation of gorge safety strategies, the commitment is meaningless.